Joining a Co-op
This week was my birthday, and I got the No. 1 thing on my list: a membership to our local co-op! Mississippi Market has three locations in St. Paul, and is the place to get organic, local and bulk foods. A lifetime membership is only $90, and comes with quarterly coupons, special member pricing on certain items, and partial ownership of the store, which can mean earning dividends if the co-op exceeds its profit margins.
I had been to the co-op a few times in the past several years, but only bought a couple things on each trip. Co-ops have a reputation for being expensive, and they are definitely different than your average grocery store. For one, all of the produce is organic, so by default it’s going to cost more. The selection is more limited, so if you’re looking for specific brands, they can be harder to find. Shopping in bulk can also be a little intimidating the first time, but luckily I’ve had some practice in this area already.
With my new membership card on my keychain, I set off for my first real co-op shopping trip! I came prepared with my reusable shopping bags, as well as compost bags for produce and containers for the bulk items on my list. Here’s how it went:
Produce: The produce selection was excellent, especially for the middle of winter in Minnesota. Though I was a little disappointed that they have the standard rolls of plastic bags, they did carry a lot more unpackaged produce than where I usually shop (Target and Trader Joe’s, mostly). Since it was organic, it was a little more expensive than the norm, but in most cases only by about 50 cents a pound. I got all of the produce on my list, including bananas, apples, bell peppers, salad and mushrooms in bulk, which I put in one of my reusable containers. The rest fit in my compostable bags or just loose in the cart.
Bulk foods: This is the section where I will shop the most at this store. On this trip, I only got a pound of noodles and some lemon poppyseed spices, but it’s definitely going to be where I get things like oatmeal, rice and coffee when we run out of our current supply. They provide paper bags, or you are welcome to bring your own, and there are instructions on how to weigh and mark your containers so they can be rung up when you check out.
Packaged foods: Though I had some packaged foods on my list (cereal, chips, granola bars, snacks for the kids), I only got a few items. I am not sure why, but popular brands like Cheerios, KIND bars and Amy’s frozen meals are a lot more expensive here than at Target. Milk was also noticeably more, both dairy and soy. I found some granola bars, Annie’s brand snacks, tofu, soy sauce, cheese and a loaf of bread that were decently priced, but I decided this is not the place to buy milk, cereal and frozen pizza, and left those on the list for another store.
Other perks: At checkout, I was asked whether I wanted to donate my credit for bringing my own bags. The co-op chooses a different nonprofit to donate to each month, and this month is a clean energy group that invests in solar and other clean energy. How could I say no to that? I also liked that the receipt told me how much I saved (only 50 cents this time), and how much of my total purchase was from local producers ($21 of my $63 total, so a full third. Awesome!). We also get discounts at other local retailers, including our favorite running store and vegan restaurant!
After one trip, I feel good having the co-op as an option for items like bulk foods, local and organic produce, and quality brands like Annie’s. Though it won’t be our main grocery store, it will definitely be part of the mix, and I’m looking forward to getting more involved in things like classes and other co-op events in the future.